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Simpler, more generous 2024-25 financial aid applications now available—but process will be slower

January 5, 2024

Olympia—Financial aid applications for this year’s graduating seniors were delayed as the federal government made updates to improve the form and increase aid eligibility. Forms are now available, although students and families should expect some technical issues for the time being. And it will take longer than usual for colleges to get and process applications and respond with financial aid awards.

In Washington, there are two ways to apply for financial aid. U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens apply for both federal and state aid with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). People who can't file the FAFSA—due to immigration status, defaulted federal loans, or other issues with federal aid—can apply for state aid with the WASFA (Washington Application for State Financial Aid). 

This year, there are big changes to the FAFSA. The changes will increase eligibility, make more money available, and simplify the form. The WASFA is also improving, with fewer questions and a simpler form. Because of these improvements, financial aid applications opened later than usual. Applications usually open October 1, and will again in future years.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), which administers the FAFSA, considers the month of January a “soft launch” of the new form, with the potential for ongoing technical updates and system downtime. 

“USDOE has said that colleges will not receive the first round of applications until the end of the month,” says Becky Thompson, director of student financial assistance at the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC). “Because of that, we’re telling folks to try to be patient. There’s no deadline for federal or state financial aid, so although it is typically good to apply as soon as you are ready, families don’t need to rush to apply during these first few weeks.”

It's also very likely that colleges will need more time to process the new forms and get financial aid award letters out the door—which may leave students with less time to assess their costs and make a final decision about their next steps. “Some colleges do have earlier priority deadlines for financial aid or enrollment commitments, but we’re hopeful that schools will be a little flexible since the timeline is compressed this year,” Thompson says.

Washingtonians have an extra incentive to consider college or training. For 2024-25, a family of four making up to $120,500 can qualify for financial aid in Washington. The Washington College Grant (WA Grant) is one of the most generous and flexible programs in the country. WA Grant supports low- and middle-income people of all ages pursuing certificates and degrees, as well as apprentices participating in approved registered apprenticeship programs. 

WA Grant is available to eligible Washington residents, including undocumented students. Grant amounts vary based on income, family size and the school or program attended. And again, there’s no deadline to apply for WA Grant—it is available year-round and is guaranteed to anyone who meets the requirements. 

Students who apply for financial aid are far more likely to attend college, and a FAFSA or WASFA is required to receive any state or federal financial aid, including WA Grant. But far too few students apply for financial aid in Washington. In recent years, only about half of all high school seniors have filed a FAFSA. Many financial aid experts hope the new simplified form will encourage more people to apply.

But there may be other ways to improve the process. Governor Inslee’s budget for the upcoming biennium proposes to let people qualify for WA Grant by demonstrating financial need through eligibility for food benefits like SNAP—without completing a financial aid application. “Eliminating the burden of applying for financial aid could really reduce barriers to education for people who might otherwise consider it out of reach,” says Thompson.

Families can get help completing applications at WSAC’s virtual financial aid information and filing events. WSAC also offers Aim Higher Washington trainings and strategy sessions for school staff. These sessions cover content-based areas such as financial aid basics, financial aid application navigation and FAFSA simplification.

“We know the changes and delays this year can be frustrating,” Thompson says. “But there is so much to be gained from applying for financial aid. You’ll never know how much money you can get for college or training unless you apply.”